Clegg: “Basic decency” that Rennard should apologise for distress caused

Nick Clegg has been doing a round of media interviews this morning – the original purpose was to unveil the Coalition’s mental health strategy, but they’ve been overshadowed by the continuing row over the allegations of sexual impropriety against Lord (Chris) Rennard.

Lord Rennard has decided not to issue an apology to the women who have made complaints against him for any distress caused as recommended by Alistair Webster’s independent report. The QC issued a further statement on Sunday explaining he thought it would be no more than “common manners” for an apology to be offered.

Here’s what Nick told ITV’s Daybreak this morning:

What is on the line here is basic decency. When you have caused offence and distress to other people, even if it doesn’t end up in the hands of the police or the courts, basic decency suggests you should apologise.

That is what Lord Rennard has been asked to do after a formal investigation and a process – recommended by an independent QC. I really think he needs to do that.

I don’t think it is appropriate that he should be sitting in the House of Lords if he hasn’t provided that apology – no apology, no whip, if you like.

That is my view, it is the view of many party members and it is the view of the person who did that formal inquiry on the party’s behalf. I very much hope that he – and other colleagues of his in the House of Lords – will listen to that and make sure that the apology is issued, so that people who have been subjected to behaviour which did cause them distress at least get that from him.

(Hat-tip: Guardian Politics live-blog)

He was repeatedly pressed in a later BBC Radio 4 Today Programme interview to clarify what would happen if Lord Rennard does take his seat on the Lib Dems’ red benches today:

If he doesn’t [apologise], then of course there are more things that can be done and the party will have to take further action … Of course there are a range of options available to the party if he does rejoin the Lords parliamentary party this afternoon without apologising, but I hope it won’t come to that.

However, he said that if Lord Rennard did apologise and promise to reform his behaviour that would draw a line under the matter:

I think if he apologises, in other words does what he’s been asked to do, then it is quite reasonable for him to say ‘well, I’ve done what I’ve been asked to do’.

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23 Comments

  • Nick Clegg has been doing a round of media interviews this morning – the original purpose was to unveil the Coalition’s mental health strategy, but ….

    Heavy irony or Freudian slip ?

  • From the BBC WEBSITE —

    Justin Webb is interviewing Nick Clegg.

    Webb says Clegg is making a speech on mental health today. But Clegg also has to deal with the Rennard affair today.

    Q: Have you spoken to Rennard?

    No, says Clegg.

    Q: Why not?

    Because it is not my job to micro-manage this. Clegg says he has a duty of care to the women involved. And he has to uphold the integrity of the party’s disciplinary procedures.

    The inquiry found that there was not enough evidence of an offence, but that distress had been caused, and apology was in order.

    Q: What’s the point if he does not mean an apology?

    Clegg says he expects people in his party to treat people with decency.

    Q: Why won’t you say that to him yourself? It sounds as if you are frightened of it, because you don’t want to take sides.

  • peter tyzack 20th Jan '14 - 10:34am

    our Constitution makes clear that the functions of the Federal Party (including presentation, media relations and internal relationships) are ‘reserved’ to the Federal Exec(article 2). That body is Chaired by the President NOT the Leader, so it is Tim’s job to sort this out not Nick’s.

  • I am slightly confused about all of this. Does Nick Clegg suggest that if any Parliamentarian causes “offence” or “distress” then s/he must apologise or risk having the whip withdrawn? Does this extend to councillors?

    There can’t be many politicians who haven’t offended someone. Must they all apologise?

    I’m not sure what I think about the original mess. I am certain, however, that it is being handled badly.

  • Is Nick Clegg making the situation better or worst?

  • I was listening to Nick Clegg this morning and I think the thing that came through most clearly is what a complete mess the internal proceedings are. “Beyond reasonable doubt” is not an appropriate criteria for internal disciplinary proceedings; it is not appropriate for the Lib Dems to act as if they are judging on the criminal merits of a case nor is it reasonable to ask complainants to expect the party to act only if they can demonstrate their objections to a criminal standard.

  • Nick Clegg says no apology, no whip to the media.
    Nick Clegg says nothing to Lord Rennard.

  • Jack – Lord Lester said in a tv interview (I think it was BBC News 24) that it did not meet “beyond reasonable doubt” OR “balance of probabilities” criteria. I have not heard this elsewhere, however.

  • Peter Rinford 20th Jan '14 - 12:05pm

    It is not an issue of “common decency” Any apology would be tantamount to an admission of guilt and however hedged would beg further media questions and potentail claims for damages in the civil courts
    Webster’s recomendation of an apology, which was a naive and typically Liberal way of fudging the issue by trying to give something to both sides and the leadership’s desperate latching on to it is the core problem. here
    .
    Webster’s job was to decide if there was sufficient evidence to bring charges against Lord Rennard of Bringing the party into disrepute or if there wasn’t. He decided there wasn’t. That should have been the end of it.

    He says in his first statement that he has made “no findings of fact” but in effect by recommending that Rennard “apologise for his behaviour” and stating that the allegatiions were “broadly credible” he has made findings.against Rennard without any opportunity for Rennard and his legal advisors to cross examine those making the allegations or present rebutal witnesses of their own. (of whom I understand there are many)

    Of course if there had been sufficient evidence to bring the charge of bringing the party into disrepute Lord Rennard and his legal representative would have been able to cross examinme his accusers.

    To suggest now that Rennard’s refusal to apologise for behaviour, which he strenuosly denies, and the evidence for which does not merit charges, and whichtherefore has not been properly tested evidentially, should now in itself open new charges of bringing the party into disreute is a Kafkaesque abuse of process.

    Message to ick Clegg. When you are in a hole stop digging
    As someone who has worked in and camapaigned about Mental Health for many years it was a tragic wasted opportunity this morning to chose to focus on this issue and not the mental health policy Bonkers frankly

  • @ Helen H – that’s what Carlile said on C4 as well. And to be honest that was what I expected the inquiry to determine. If the inquiry was only going to use the reasonable doubt standard the wouldn’t it just be a repeat of the investigation already undertaken by the police? If the allegations could be proved beyond reasonable doubt, they would be a criminal matter (the alleged touching is serious enough to warrant that). So the police had already given their verdict on whether the criminal standard of proof could be reached – if the inquiry was not going to determine whether the lower civil standard could be reached the what was the point of it?

  • paul barker 20th Jan '14 - 1:47pm

    Its tragic that a serious dialog about Mental Health has been derailed by the Rennard affair. The damage done to The Party takes this way beyond the point where an Apology will do. We should begin the process of expulsion.

  • @ Peter Rinford

    I’m sure NC would have preferred to talk about mental health and that it was journalists bringing up Rennard instead of him.

  • “Helen H – that’s what Carlile said on C4 as well. And to be honest that was what I expected the inquiry to determine.”

    It wasn’t what the inquiry had to determine, because the party constitution specifies the higher “beyond reasonable doubt” standard.

    That is the only standard Webster has referred to in his statements, so the basis of Carlile’s claim about the lower civil standard is not clear. What we do know is that Webster specifically discounted the possibility that the complaints had been invented as part of a plot against Rennard.

  • “It is not an issue of “common decency” Any apology would be tantamount to an admission of guilt …”

    Obviously an apology for inadvertently causing distress wouldn’t amount to an admission of guilt. Though it would obviously be difficult to reconcile with the line Rennard has been taking that the women concerned are lying and that incidents they complained about did not happen.

  • Helen H

    “I am slightly confused about all of this. Does Nick Clegg suggest that if any Parliamentarian causes “offence” or “distress” then s/he must apologise or risk having the whip withdrawn? Does this extend to councillors?

    There can’t be many politicians who haven’t offended someone. Must they all apologise?”

    We wouldn’t hear this in quite the same way if he had made a statement from afar, there wold be much more debate about this. He is accused of physically “invading other people’s space” which most would agree is not something we have the right to do.

    I must admit I don’t know how much he accepts from the accusations, however if he accepts that he in any way entered another person’s space then (be that because he had misread a situation or any other reason) an apology would be completely normal.

    The only basis for not apologising would be that he never entered the complainant’s space. The investigation looked in to the likelihood of proving to a sufficient standard that he intentionally acted a certain way. It does not clear him of making them uncomfortable either by acting in a way that they found intimidating or by misreading signals.

    If I accidentally bumped in to someone in a pub and it was my fault I would normally apologise. It is just good manners.

    It is interesting that the party looked from the point of view of a criminal prosecution not “bringing the party in to disrepute” which the matter clearly has done. I feel uncomfortable they this choice may be because it would open the flood gates on a large number of male parliamentarians (of all parties) who have tried to use their “position” to excuse making other people uncomfortable.

    “I’m not sure what I think about the original mess. I am certain, however, that it is being handled badly.”

    I agree the handling is a mess.

  • Peter Chegwyn 20th Jan '14 - 3:10pm

    Like everyone else here I haven’t seen the actual Webster Report. Even the accused, Chris Rennard, has been denied access to it. So much for our opposition to secret trials!

    Yet thanks to pressure from Nick Clegg, Chris is now to face yet another trial / disciplinary procedure due to his failure to apologise for alleged actions he has always denied, alleged actions he doesn’t even know the details of because he hasn’t been allowed to see the Webster Report or the evidence given against him.

    This after police & party investigations have both concluded with recommendations that no further action be taken against him.

    It seems some people won’t be happy until they’ve drummed Chris out of the party.

    What an absolutely crazy state-of-affairs!

    Surely someone should have tried to bring the parties together and resolve this situation away from the media glare.

    The only winners from this fiasco are the Conservative & Labour parties who must be laughing all the way to the ballot box especially now the one Lib. Dem. campaigner they truly feared has been told by Nick Clegg that his campaign skills are not required… this at a time when the Lib. Dems. stand at 8% in the polls and Nick Clegg’s personal rating is -51%.

    You couldn’t make it up!

  • Having read his statement, I am a little confused how the party expects him to appologise. If he has not been given the facts of the case to explain the specific events which he is expected to appologise for I don’t understnd how he could.

    If you want someone to appologise for something and mean it they need to know what it is.

    This is all very odd.

  • “That is the only standard Webster has referred to in his statements, so the basis of Carlile’s claim about the lower civil standard is not clear.”

    As far as I can see the claim about Webster having found the complaints could not be upheld on the civil standard is also absent from the extremely long and detailed statement issued by Rennard today, which would be very difficult to understand if the claim were true.

  • It’s good to see the constructive way this thread is going.

    @ Simon Shaw. I take your points(ish). I still don’t like that as a party we can have an internal investigation that concludes “Not Guilty, But…”.

  • Martin Pierce 21st Jan '14 - 8:12am

    I was surprised Nick Robinson didn’t pick up in the post match review on ‘Today’ the point that Nick had not spoken to Chris Rennard. That just feels like a basic issue of leadership. The only way these sort of things can get resolved, when there are plenty of grey areas, is for lots of jaw-jaw not war-war. Otherwise it’s all megaphone diplomacy – as we are seeing. Surely Nick knows Chris well enough to be able to pick the phone up to him after the report was finished – he did after all pick up the phone to the women involved (which was a good thing). He is just a very poor leader unfortunately .

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